Liberia: EPs Dismisses Reports of Lapses, Disenchantment, Irregular Recruitment

Weah's bodyguards protect his motorcade.

An agent of the Special Security Service (SSS) during the first administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The SSS, through an act of Legislature, later became known as the Executive Protection Service (EPS)

Officials of the Executive Protection Force (EPS) have denied claims of disenchantment within the ranks and out rightly dismissed reports carried in the media about the alleged absorption of hundreds of ex-fighters, on the recommendation of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, and other elements of unknown character, also on the alleged recommendation of President George Weah.

However this view is challenged by rank and file officers who, speaking on conditions of anonymity, maintained that there is indeed disenchantment in the ranks owing mainly to the infusion of unidentified elements of questionable characters into the ranks of the EPS since the ascendancy of George Manneh Weah to the high office of President.

Some of those newly infused into the ranks of the organization, according to sources, had been dismissed for a variety of reasons including absenteeism and general worthlessness, but are being ushered back into the service. This according to them is responsible for a series of lapses some of which have come to the attention of the public and which were clearly demonstrated during the recent Inauguration and Armed Forces Day ceremonies.

They cited as an example of irregular recruitment, the case of a female who goes by the name of Sonnie Kollie who they alleged was co-opted into the EPS by former late EPS Director Othello Warrick as Assistant Director for Administration, without going through proper vetting and training. She is alleged to have subsequently deserted her duties almost immediately following the death of former Director Warrick in 2015.

However, according to the officers since the latest change in leadership of the organization, Ms. Sonnie Kollie has resurfaced and is now poised to resume the post of Assistant Director for Administration without going through a formal process of vetting and recruitment.

Moreover, our sources claimed that some individuals who have not been vetted nor undergone training have been issued with side arms which they are permitted to carry at all times (24/7). One of such individuals is identified as Finda Bundoo, Chief of Protocol, Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, who, according to our sources has not undergone the standard EPS training, but was issued an EPS-marked side-arm with two-weeks' weapons training. There is no record to show that she is a member of the EPS or why she would justify being issued a side-arm.

According to them, Ms. Finda Bundoo once served as an aide to former President Taylor and is not known to have undergone formal VIP protection training.

Ms. Bundoo could not be reached for comment.

Under current regulations, only officers who have been trained in the use of arms and are on active assignment are allowed to bear arms which are marked by the Small Arms Commission in keeping with the Act on Small Arms.

Further according to them, assigning a weapon to an individual untrained in its use is not only a violation of the EPS Standard Operating Procedures but it is also a violation of the National Firearms Act regulating the use, possession, import or production of small arms.

When taking up assignment, EPS operatives have to sign for the weapons and upon completion of their day's work they are to return the arms to the armory and sign in attestation that the weapons received have been returned, the officers said.

The officers also cited terms and conditions of service as another source of disenchantment. According to them, under current arrangements, members of the EPS are now covered by the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation(NASSCORP) unlike previously.

However, according to them, officers who have served for long periods (20 or more years) are not qualified to receive pension benefits. And although classified as civil servants, they are however not considered eligible for pension and retirement benefits after they retire from the service.

This is because they have not been paying into the Social Security fund over the years although they are civil servants and have been paying personal income tax since their induction into the service, the aggrieved officers maintained.

According to Section 22 of the Civil Service Policy Manual, Employment of Security or Paramilitary Personnel: "In order to become a security agent or an employee of a paramilitary Government agency (such as the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization), the candidate should be a citizen of the Republic of Liberia, be between the ages of 18 and 45 years, have the minimum qualification of a high school diploma and must present the required documents listed below:

a) Clearance and letter of reference from the Head or Senior Management of all the institutions for which he/she has worked in the past 5 years and

b) Letter of reference from his/her previous institutions of learning;

Police clearance (stipulating that he/she has never been convicted of a crime).

Clearance from illegal drug use, established through drug tests administered by arrangement through the hiring institution.

A written statement attesting that he/she is not affiliated with any radical international or local organization that is plotting to destabilize the Government of Liberia.

It should be substantiated (by security check through the hiring institution) that the candidate has not been involved in any mass disturbances or riots in his/her neighborhood or community.

Having completed the security requirement, the candidate can then be employed using the Merit-Based Employment procedures prescribed for all institutions of Government.

But speaking with the Daily Observer Monday in an interview at the outfit's Capitol Hill office, EPS human resource director Patrick Mulbah said during times of transition, incoming officials usually recommend the hiring and inclusion of individuals into the force.

However, he stressed that while it is the prerogative of new incoming officials to make such recommendations, it does not translate into the automatic recruitment of said recommended individuals into the EPS.

Mulbah said applicants are subjected to vigorous background checks and they have to first sit a written interview followed by an oral interview and a series of background checks and monitoring which last a period of 3 months at the minimum but could go on for as long as 6 months depending on the particular case, he said.

The HR director said these processes are rigorous because they are meant to be foolproof because the EPS or its leadership could be held responsible for any errant behavior on the part of a recruit or regular officer.

Responding to concerns about polarization in the EPS arising from divided loyalties to President Weah on the one hand and Vice President Jewel Howard on the other hand, both of who are alleged to have submitted long lists of individuals to be absorbed into the ranks of the EPS, Mulbah said such may have been the case during the several transitional periods.

But the Daily Observer, recalling the past where a polarized presidential security force saw gun battles in the Executive Mansion between opposing forces, questioned Mulbah about the risk of a recurrence of such.

However, according to Mulbah, this is no longer the case because under the rubric of the UN supported Security Sector Reform program, EPS applicants are required to undergo a vigorous recruitment and vetting exercise prior to induction into the service.

On the question of alleged disenchantment in the ranks of the EPS, Mulbah dismissed such reports as unfounded because, according to him, all is well and fine and there was no such thing as disenchantment in the ranks of the force.

But from all indications, the EPS, as a public institution dedicated to the protection of the President and highly ranked officials, stands in danger of being compromised by disenchantment and having its image tattered in the eyes of the public if corrective steps are not taken immediately.

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